Gunshot victim finds blessings worth counting

Kristi O’Harran

Kristi’s Notebook

Mary Peters said she is a living murder victim.

Those are harsh words, not supported by our legal system, but look at her face if you doubt the statement. Peters was shot through the head, allegedly by her husband, on July 11, 1999, while they sat in their car in Mountlake Terrace.

"There was a heated argument," said Peters, 40, clutching an ice pack to the dent in the side of her head. "I was crying. He was hugging me. He asked if I was afraid."

Then she heard a "ba boom."

She saw a flash.

The rest is a blur.

Michael Robert Clary was charged with first-degree assault in connection with the incident. Police found a loaded .357-caliber handgun on the floor of the vehicle near the victim, and Clary admitted he carried the weapon sometimes. He pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and being a felon in possession of a firearm, under an agreement reached with Snohomish County prosecutors.

He entered a standard guilty plea to the firearm possession charge, but entered a so-called Alford plea to the assault charge. In court papers, Clary said he does not believe he committed the offense, but wanted to take advantage of the prosecution’s offer.

He will be sentenced Tuesday. Clary faces less than two years in prison.

Peters won’t testify in court about the nightmare that took her right eye and most of the sight in her left eye.

She underwent surgeries to make repairs. Her right eyeball is glass, but you can’t see it. Plastic surgery hasn’t lifted the skin over the socket. The dip on the right side of her head will be fixed later by propping the area with a bone from another part of her body. Air doesn’t pass through the misshapen nose. Her jaw doesn’t open wide enough for Peters to brush her teeth.

But you know what? She is going to get better. This is a self-described conquering woman who has stared down decades of adversity with the strength of Helen of Troy. A street kid, Peters hitchhiked across the country when she was 12 or 13, she said. There were scrapes with the law.

"I grew up," she said. "I got my life together."

Peters said it was love at first sight when she met Clary at an Alcoholic’s Anonymous dance. During their eight years of marriage, she said they both returned to using drugs and alcohol. The day of the shooting, they were on their way to the market to buy her son a sandwich.

"We’d been drinking," she said. "We’d been arguing."

At Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, surgeons took 22 hours to remove fragments of the bullet that splattered behind her face.

"My teeth cracked like popcorn," Peters said. "I’m in pain 24 hours a day. It’s like somebody is squeezing my head, trying to pop my brain out."

Her companion and roommate, John Herndon, knew Peters from her work at a thrift store. Before her injury, he dropped into her shop almost every day to see if any new goods struck his fancy.

"We became good friends," said Herndon, 39. "I was in disbelief this could happen."

Herndon has cared for Peters at his home east of Mill Creek since she left the hospital. He takes her to doctor appointments, minds her medications and lets her rest a throbbing head on his lap. Her medical treatment is paid for by the state crime victims compensation program.

"I’m so grateful to John," Peters said, bending over to rock her head. "He cries with me."

After the shooting, her personal household items were scattered. Herndon managed to retrieve her beloved red antique sofa. He also makes her special mashed potatoes with apples and crushed hazel nuts that she slurps like thick soup.

"It makes me sad when I can’t eat," Peters said. "I’ve always been so independent."

Her greatest pride is teen-age twin sons who live with their father in Marysville. One watched his mother try to sweep the floor one day, missing dirt she couldn’t see. He grabbed the broom and told his mother he would be there to do whatever she couldn’t manage.

"They are very special boys," Peters said. "I am so blessed."

Over Herndon’s front door there is a wooden plaque with animals in Noah’s Ark. It reads "Count your blessings two by two." Peters said she has enough vision left to read her Bible. Who could imagine how difficult it was for her to find something positive in her life?

There are always the dreadful memories.

"My mind goes over and over it a million times every day," she said. "It just comes up like a big movie screen."

She’ll need to gather strength for Tuesday’s sentencing when she sees Clary in court. As she dabbed tissue at saliva that rolled down her chin, she contemplated the moment.

"He hasn’t seen my face yet," she said.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

Bothell
2 injured in Bothell Everett Highway crash

The highway was briefly reduced to one northbound lane while police investigated the three-car crash Saturday afternoon.

Heavy traffic northbound on 1-5 in Everett, Washington on August 31, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
On I-5 in Everett, traffic nightmare is reminder we’re ‘very vulnerable’

After a police shooting shut down the freeway, commutes turned into all-night affairs. It was just a hint of what could be in a widespread disaster.

Anthony Brock performs at Artisans PNW during the first day of the Fisherman’s Village Music Fest on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At downtown Everett musical festival: ‘Be weird and dance with us’

In its first night, Fisherman’s Village brought together people who “might not normally be in the same room together” — with big acts still to come.

Two troopers place a photo of slain Washington State Patrol trooper Chris Gadd outside District 7 Headquarters about twelve hours after Gadd was struck and killed on southbound I-5 about a mile from the headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Judge reduces bail for driver accused of killing Marysville trooper

After hearing from Raul Benitez Santana’s family, a judge decreased bail to $100,000. A deputy prosecutor said he was “very disappointed.”

Pet detective Jim Branson stops to poke through some fur that Raphael the dog found while searching on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Everett, Washington. Branson determined the fur in question was likely from a rabbit, and not a missing cat.(Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lost a pet? Pet detective James Branson and his dogs may be able to help

James Branson, founder of Three Retrievers Lost Pet Rescue, helps people in the Seattle area find their missing pets for $350.

Whidbey Renaissance Faire volunteers pose in their costumes. (Photo by Bree Eaton)
Faire thee well: Renaissance is coming to Whidbey Island

The volunteer-run fair May 25 and 26 will feature dancers, a juggler, ‘Fakespeare,’ various live music shows and lots of food.

Community Transit leaders, from left, Chief Communications Officer Geoff Patrick, Zero-Emissions Program Manager Jay Heim, PIO Monica Spain, Director of Maintenance Mike Swehla and CEO Ric Ilgenfritz stand in front of Community Transit’s hydrogen-powered bus on Monday, May 13, 2024, at the Community Transit Operations Base in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New hydrogen, electric buses get trial run in Snohomish County

As part of a zero-emission pilot program from Community Transit, the hydrogen bus will be the first in the Puget Sound area.

Two people fight on the side of I-5 neat Marysville. (Photo provided by WSDOT)
Video: Man charged at trooper, shouting ‘Who’s the boss?’ before shooting

The deadly shooting shut down northbound I-5 near Everett for hours. Neither the trooper nor the deceased had been identified as of Friday.

Two people fight on the side of I-5 neat Marysville. (Photo provided by WSDOT)
Road rage, fatal police shooting along I-5 blocks traffic near Everett

An attack on road workers preceded a report of shots fired Thursday, snarling freeway traffic in the region for hours.

The Port of Everett and Everett Marina on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Is Port of Everett’s proposed expansion a ‘stealth tax?’ Judge says no

A Snohomish resident lost a battle in court this week protesting what he believes is a misleading measure from the Port of Everett.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.